When you grow up a Southern Baptist in Texas, you grow up with a love for Jesus, sweaty preachers and casserole dishes.
We moved up north a bit, so the preacher is quite a bit calmer, but Jesus and the casserole dishes are sure the same.
I’ve been serving meals at our church for about a year now, and I’ve seen all manner of food prepared and eaten there. Once, I had to make a pizza casserole, and I was a bit nervous because the recipe called for half a bottle of Italian dressing to be dumped in there with the pasta and pepperoni. (People ate it. Nobody died.)
From this group of Midwestern Christian folk, I’ve learned not just that there are other dressings besides Ranch, but that peanut butter balls are called “Buckeyes” and sometimes, cake is so good you can eat it off the floor.
This last week was my final week on the food service team, and I thought I’d serve up a little taste of home. I made a double Texas Sheet Cake (which everyone kept calling brownies, sheesh) and a Chili-Mac Casserole – homemade Hamburger Helper for those of you used to eating stuff out of a box.
Hamburger Helper always makes me think of my friend Rach’s husband, who seems obsessed with the stuff. He’s usually out of luck, cause she won’t serve it in her kitchen, and I can’t blame her. But here’s a recipe for a made-from-scratch version that is hearty and tastes great. (I’m not even kidding. We had the leftovers for dinner two nights in a row and no one complained. At all.)
The cake? Well, don’t make it unless you’ve got company coming, or you’ll eat the whole thing yourself. You’ll go cake crazy, like my little one who keeps running into the kitchen yelling, “CAKE. CAKECAKECAKEYCAKE.” Or you’ll make yourself sick, like a guest I had once who, while the rest of us were in the living room chatting, sat in the kitchen and devoured about half a pan.
Chili Mac Casserole
(adapted from allrecipies.com)
1 (16 oz) package elbow macaroni
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can Rotel
1 can sweet corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can light red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 envelope chili seasoning mix
1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
¾ cup milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 cup crushed tortilla chips (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, if you’re going to serve this right away. If you’re making it ahead of time, clear out a BIG space in your fridge or freezer. No, bigger. BIGGER.
In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground meat and drain the excess grease. Mix in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, corn, kidney beans, taco seasoning, and chili seasoning. Then bring it to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
While it’s simmering, cook the macaroni, drain in a colander and set aside.
Whisk the soup and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Add in half the shredded cheese, the sour cream, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Arrange the cooked macaroni into the bottom of a 10×15-inch baking dish, and mix with the soup mixture. Pour the ground beef chili over the macaroni, and sprinkle with the rest of the cheddar cheese and, if you like them and you’re cooking it right then, the crushed tortilla chips.
Bake in the preheated oven until the casserole is hot and bubbling and the cheese topping has melted, 20 to 30 minutes. Serve topped with dollops of sour cream.
*If you’re making this ahead of time, take it out to defrost in the fridge the day before you want to cook it. Then, set it on the counter for 20 minutes while the oven heats.
Texas Sheet Cake
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup butter (Yeah, you read that right.)
1 cup water
5 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (Or bourbon, if you’re not Baptist. Or if you are Baptist but appreciate some of the finer libations available on this earth.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Taste the bourbon to make sure it’s good. Grease and flour a 10×15 inch (jelly roll) pan.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat in the sour cream and eggs. Set aside.
Melt the butter on low in a saucepan, add the water and 5 tablespoons cocoa. Bring mixture to a boil then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly, then stir cocoa mixture into the egg mixture, mixing until blended.
Pour batter into prepared pan. It’s gonna be really runny. Don’t freak out.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. For the love of Deuteronomy, don’t over bake this thing. It needs to be m…m…moi…that word I can’t say but means wet and gooey.
For the icing: In a large saucepan, combine the milk, cocoa and butter. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, mixing until blended. Spread the frosting over warm cake.
Keep the cake covered until you’re ready to serve it so it melts in mouths appropriately and doesn’t dry out.